by Kimberley-Ann Tan
I knew entering nursing in uni that it would be vastly different from the familiar world of mass comm and radio, but I didn’t know how demanding it would be both physically and academically. I knew it would suit my personality, but I didn’t know how much it would change my character.
Two years and several work attachments later, I’ve picked up quite a few lessons from my time in nursing school. Here are eight of them.
1. Nurses do a lot.
What surprised me the most about nursing is how much we need to do.
Of course, nurses do more than just clean butts and bathe patients. But I was amazed at how extensive our medical knowledge has to be. For example, doctors count on us to double-check various steps to make sure that nothing is overlooked and we don’t give the patient clashing medications by mistake.
A nurse sometimes has to play the role of other healthcare professionals since we’re the ones with the patient 24/7. After the doctor or physiotherapist sees the patient for 15 or 20 minutes, nurses have to ensure that all the actions prescribed are continually reinforced and carried out. We play a supportive, on-the-ground role that covers a lot of bases.
2. Don’t be quick to judge.
It sounds clichéd and lame, but I’ve learnt not to judge a book by its cover, and that you learn to love someone once you get to know their story.
I’ve had a few patients who are labelled “difficult” because they’re grumpy, don’t take instructions well and often refuse to take their medicine. However, when you build a bond and get to know the patient, you might discover a hidden story.
Nursing has really taught me to dig deeper and made me more empathetic in my personal life.
One patient may be upset that his daughter hasn’t visited during his entire stay. Another may be worried about not recovering and becoming a burden to her son when she goes home.
It’s human to jump to conclusions based on what we see on the surface. Nursing has really taught me to dig deeper. This helps me care for my patients more effectively, and has made me more empathetic in my personal life.
3. Communication is tough.
I used to think that I communicate and connect with people very well.
Then I got thrown into the hospital environment.
I say to Patient A, “Auntie, eat your medicine.” The patient goes, “Hah?” I say the same thing to Patient B, but am unaware that I have offended her with my body language. She wails, “Don’t scold me lah!”
In the healthcare field, I encounter and interact with a wide range of people. Lots of patients are older, hard of hearing or don’t speak English – a far cry from the English-only mass comm environment I was used to.
I’ve had to learn to speak Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil (which BTW is super difficult), and really up my communication game overall.
4. Be humble. (or, Don’t know say don’t know.)
Humility was something I truly understood the importance of only after I joined nursing.
In the past, my usual mode was to pretend I know what’s up, that I’m confident. In nursing – where lives are at stake – there’s no room to play around. If you don’t know something, you admit it and learn. If you just pretend that you know or don’t study it properly, one misstep could cost a patient’s life.
Had I learnt humility at a younger age, I think I would have been a lot more receptive to comments and grown a lot more (rather than feel attacked by well-meaning constructive criticism).
5. Appreciate life and your loved ones.
I’ve seen life enter this world and I’ve seen life exit it. It’s a sobering experience that keeps me grounded, making me appreciate the significance of life and cherish the ones I love.
Even though both grandparents have departed, I now take it as my duty to take care of other people’s grandparents, other people’s loved ones.
A big influence on my decision to join nursing was seeing my grandmother take care of my grandfather before his death. I felt helpless then and did not know what I could do to assist her. Even though both of them have departed, I now take it as my duty to take care of other people’s grandparents, other people’s loved ones.
I was strongly reminded of this motivation at my first clinical posting at a community hospital. Surrounded by the elderly who treated me as their very own granddaughter, I quickly formed bonds with my patients and discovered how my presence made a difference to their lives.
6. Passion is key. Its absence is obvious.
In nursing we have a lot of different personalities but you can tell the difference between those who are passionate and those who are not.
There are those who are in it for a stable career and a decent wage. Usually they are less curious and less participative. Then there are those who are full of questions and initiative, who are thirsty for knowledge and learn as much as they can. Regardless of the specific reasons or experiences that fuel them (e.g. family members who have suffered ailments and been hospitalised), passion is really what makes these individuals in nursing stand out.
7. School and work are two totally different worlds.
What we learn in school can’t fully prepare us for the actual job.
I have friends who are really smart and score really well but freeze during attachments. Out of their comfort zones, they may not be the best at interacting with patients or navigating the hospital environment.
Others, who may not perform as well academically, thrive on the job. They are more confident moving about the clinical setting and are able to connect with patients, easily recalling the names of their family members.
8. Self-care is important.
Even though I find so much passion and joy in my studies and work, it is extremely important to maintain a good work-life balance and apply the lessons I’ve learnt to my life and my relationships.
Back when I was in mass comm, I thought of myself as an extrovert. I always pushed myself to be more “out there”, constantly surrounding myself with people. But after joining nursing, I realise that I enjoy nothing more than coming home early, putting on a mask, and lying down reflecting on life while listening to Bon Iver.
A few years ago, I hated the idea of change. I thought that my path was fixed and that I knew who I was meant to be. Little did I know how much would change within a short span of time. And who knows how much things will change in the coming years. But I’m so thankful for all I’ve gone through, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
For more millennial stories, visit the #LetsTalkMillennials page.